Growing up in Storm Lake, Iowa, Joanne Alvorez felt there was a need for a stronger connection and better understanding between Latino students and school counselors in her community. Alvorez decided to make it her goal to pursue counseling and social work within the same school district she attended.
When searching for a future college, Alvorez wanted to find a place with a strong social work program. After looking into the University of Iowa’s program, she fell in love with the atmosphere and the idea of having a small college feel at a large university with many opportunities.
“My professors always had a huge emphasis on giving us hands-on experience in the classroom,” Alvorez says. “We would often do role-playing activities that prepared me to work with clients in real-life situations.”
Alvorez obtained her Bachelor of Arts in social work in 2013 from the UI at the Iowa City campus and is currently enrolled in the School of Social Work’s Master of Social Work (MSW) satellite education program in Sioux City, Iowa. The program is a three-year, part-time program that was created to help meet a shortage of professional master’s-level social workers in the western part of Iowa. The UI also offers MSW satellite education programs in the Quad Cities and Des Moines, as well as a fully online MSW program.
“Getting my master’s felt like the next step to help me go a lot further in accomplishing my ultimate goal of being a guide for those who are underrepresented,” Alvorez says.
In addition to taking classes to complete her MSW, Alvorez works part time as a High School Equivalency Diploma Teacher’s Assistant at Iowa Central Community College, where she helps adult learners obtain their high school diploma and assists in English as a Second Language classes. She finds that no matter what job she is doing, the skills she has acquired through the social work program always give her an advantage.
“My background knowledge from my undergraduate years seeps into every aspect of my life, and has made me a more empathetic person,” she says. “I am able to pick up on people’s feelings and I am able to better recognize how to help them. The professors in the program have been so accommodating and have worked with my schedule to make sure I do not fall behind. I know all of my professors genuinely want me to succeed.”
Ultimately, she hopes to establish a nonprofit in her hometown of Storm Lake that focuses on helping high school students from underrepresented backgrounds who want to go to college.
“Many of the students in my community will be first-generation college students and their families have never experienced applying for colleges or loans,” Alvorez says. “I want to act as a guide to students who are struggling to figure out their post-high school plans.”